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25 November 2016
Oldest bone jewellery found in Australia

A piece of bone in Australia looks as if it was designed to be worn in the nasal septum - making it the oldest bone jewellery anywhere in the world belonging to Homo sapiens. The find shows that the first humans to reach Australia 50,000 years ago were as culturally advanced as their counterparts in Africa and Europe.
     Sue O'Connor at the Australian National University in Canberra found the delicate, 13-centimetre-long artefact in a rock shelter in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Analysis revealed red ochre stains and stone tooling marks.
     O'Connor's team believes the bone is more likely to be jewellery than a tool, based on comparisons with sewing needles and ornaments made by 19th and 20th-century Indigenous Australians. The shape, ochre staining and wear patterns closely match modern nose bones. Langley says that nose bones were commonly worn in Australia until recently, but their meaning differs between groups. Many other cultures around the world also wore jewellery in septal piercings, and the practice continues today.
     Findings of early bone tools and ornaments have been rare. Langley says the discovery of ancient bone technology in Australia is important because it reshapes our understanding of the first inhabitants. Ian Lilley at the University of Queensland says: "This shows that the first people in Australia were just as capable as those everywhere else of complex actions. So whether this artefact was used as a nose bone or for sewing skins doesn't really matter - it's evidence of complicated behaviour."
     Neanderthals may have been making jewellery 80,000 years before modern humans reached Europe. Eagle talons dated as 130,000 years old from a Neanderthal site in Croatia show features suggesting they were used in a necklace or bracelet. The oldest jewellery yet found of any kind made by early modern humans are 100,000-year-old shell beads from sites in Africa and the Middle East.

Edited from New Scientist (18 November 2016)

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